News / Asia

Rohingya Using Larger Boats to Flee Burma, Bangladesh

FILE - Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Burma wave as they are transported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar.
FILE - Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Burma wave as they are transported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar.
Activists in Southeast Asia say thousands of people are fleeing Bangladesh and Burma by sea, resuming a seasonal migration that has seen many head south in recent years. Nearly all are attempting to illegally enter Malaysia via Thailand.

Monitors along the Burma-Bangladesh border estimate that 17,000 people have already left the area since August, mostly on big boats.

The information comes from the non-governmental organization, the Arakan Project.

Chris Lewa is the director of the research-based humanitarian group concerned with the plight of the stateless Rohingya, a minority Muslim ethnic group in the region.

“Just in the last week or so we have nearly 4,000 people who are on the move. We are particularly concerned that this season, I would say from now on during the dry season, there is going to be a massive movement of boat people,” he said.

U.N. officials in the region say they deem the reports “credible” but have no specific numbers of their own.

Economic migrants from Bangladesh and Burma have long risked dangerous sea voyages in search of better jobs in Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia. But sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma in the past year has led to rising numbers of ethnic Rohingya fleeing the country.
 
U.N. organizations have noted the shift this year to larger vessels from the small and dangerous older fishing vessels previously used by the Rohingya in the Bay of Bengal.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in a report released last Friday, noted that with the use of the bigger ships, “the price has been lowered and methods of payment have eased, facilitating the greater numbers of departures.”

Lewa tells VOA the more sophisticated exodus appears to be well organized. “This cannot exist, this kind of thing, without close collaboration with authorities in the country, whether it is Thailand or in Bangladesh. But specifically in Thailand all this movement of people, I think, cannot happen with some connivance,” he stated.

The Thai online news site Phuketwan said would-be refugees and villagers on the country’s western Andaman coast have fingered renegade Thai officers who are participating in people smuggling.

The Reuters news agency, in July, reported that interviews with people smugglers and survivors of boat voyages, revealed some Thai naval security forces were working “systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya.”

Lewa says her contacts along the border note that people in Burma are boarding ferry boats in daylight and without paying authorities, suggesting at least an informal “open door policy” by the country for those Muslims desiring to leave.

The passengers are transferred among ships in international waters, according to witnesses who spoke with Lewa. They are reportedly held in makeshift camps built by smugglers in southern Thailand until they can pay $2,000 per person to be moved across the border into Malaysia.

“There is a lot of concern that if they can't pay they may be sold or trafficked. It is difficult, of course, to find evidence of this but we do believe that there are people being sold to fishing trawlers or plantations, either in the south of Thailand or Malaysia,” stated Lewa.

The U.N. Refugee Agency said it has noted that since inter-communal violence last June in Rakhine state, more women and children are fleeing. Previously it was primarily men who risked their lives by taking perilous journeys on smaller boats.

Several small overcrowded boats carrying about as many as 200 Rohingya capsized and sank in rough seas in May of this year off the coast of western Burma. Fewer than one third of those on board made it ashore.

Marine police in Satun province, in far southern Thailand, confirm that 219 Rohingya swam to a beach after their vessel ran aground on a sandbank on September 11. The men were given drinking water and fuel, their boat was pushed back out to sea and they were sent on their way towards Malaysia, marine police Lt. Gen. Bungerd Manawat told VOA.

The maritime migration of the Rohingya is considered one of the biggest movements of boat people since the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970's.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More